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Towards a Social-scientific Concept of Legitimacy

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Part of the Issues in Political Theory book series (IPT)


The exercise of power by one person over others, or by one group over another, is a basic and recurrent feature of all societies. Those who are subordinate experience it as constraining, often humiliating and sometimes life-threatening; and many would escape it if they could. Those who hold power, or seek to do so, are themselves frequently at odds with one another over the scope of their power and the control over their subordinates, with potentially damaging consequences. Power, in other words, is a highly problematical, as well as recurrent feature of human societies. And because it is so problematical, societies will seek to subject it to justifiable rules, and the powerful themselves will seek to secure consent to their power from at least the most important among their subordinates. Where power is acquired and exercised according to justifiable rules, and with evidence of consent, we call it rightful or legitimate.

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© 1991 David Beetham

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Beetham, D. (1991). Towards a Social-scientific Concept of Legitimacy. In: The Legitimation of Power. Issues in Political Theory. Palgrave, London.

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